As we football fans get weened off the World Cup like a junkie coming off morphine, we enter the business end, and hopefully the highlight of the month long tournament.
Uruguay will take on Holland in the first Semi Final, while Spain and Germany will go head to head in the other.
Uruguay vs. Holland
La Celeste (Uruguay) are the world's last chance against European domination, and on paper they are most definitely the outsiders.
Uruguay: How They Got There , Form: PLD -5 W-3 D-2 L-0 (Goals) F-7 A-2
Oscar Tabarez has done an incredible job to make Uruguay South America's most successful team at this tournament. Having played more qualifying matches than any other nation to make it to South Africa, few had high hopes for a long run in the competition.
The Diego Forlan -led outfit has proved to be one of the most flexible and well organized in the tournament, strolling to the top of Group A ahead of Mexico, an imploding French team, and naive hosts South Africa.
Switching formations from 4-4-2 to 3-4-3, or even a 3-4-1-2, Oscar Tabarez has shown a great understanding of not only the opposition, but of his own team's strengths too.
Uruguay often plays on the back-foot and, importantly, have had less than 45 percent possession in every one of their matches.
They have shown a great ability to break quickly, absorb attacks, and control the space on the pitch in their third, making them a very tough opponent to figure out.
vs. France 0-0, vs. South Africa 3-0, vs. Mexico 1-0.
vs. South Korea 2-1
vs. Ghana 1-1 (penalties 4-2)
Key Player: Diego Forlan
The Atletico Madrid striker has been one of this event's top performers. Whether he is playing up front in a two-pronged attack or just behind as the main playmaker, he has proven himself to be one of the most adept players in South Africa.
The main problem facing Forlan against the Dutch is finding him a partner in attack to compliment his skills. Without Luis Suarez on the team, the main goalscoring responsibilities will lie with the blond- locked forward, meaning that Forlan will probably have to finish whatever he creates.
The Key to Beating Holland:
This will be very tricky for Uruguay to pull off. The Dutch are incredibly comfortable on the ball so pressing them high up the pitch may not reap dividends. Such a massive effort would be very tiring for La Celeste's players, especially coming off the extra time win over Ghana.
Brazil also found out, much to their dismay, that this Holland side have a certain steel about them and will not be bullied out of the game easily, meaning that Uruguay should not be able to turn the match into a war of attrition.
Netherlands are at their weakest on the flanks, which is also probably where they are strongest in attack. Van Der Wiel is suspended, so Bert van Maarwijk will not have his first choice right fullback in attendance and Giovani van Bronckhurst is well into his mid thirties and could be exposed through direct attacking through his channel.
In front of them are the workaholic Dirk Kuyt and the phenom that is Arjen Robben. As Robinho showed for Brazil in the quarterfinals, Robben does not like tracking back and his poor positioning was exposed for the opening goal of the game.
While Kuyt is incredibly willing, his technical ability is quite poor and his decision making can be rushed if he is pressed.
La Celeste must do this all, while keeping Snejder, Robben, and the misfiring van Persie quiet.
No easy task.
Oscar Tabarez , Uruguay Coach:
"Holland are tough opponents. They’ve not lost for almost two years. This generation is a little different to the traditional Holland, they are a very balanced side. At the back they give nothing away, they link well in midfield, and up front, they have hard-running, technically capable players like Van Bommel, Sneijder, and Robben. They’re always on the front foot, looking to attack. It’ll be very difficult—but not impossible."
Holland: How They Got There, Form PLD -5 W-5 D-0 L-0 (GOALS) F-9 A-3
The Dutch had a 100 percent record through qualifying, winning all eight games as they became the first European side to qualify for South Africa. As it stands, Holland are now unbeaten in their last 24 matches.
Having been made favourites to win Group E comfortably, De Oranje went about their business with ruthless efficiency.
It would be fair to say that van Maarwijk's side have yet to get out of second gear; however, they were more than a match for Denmark, Japan, or Cameroon. Although, a certain amount of luck has played its part in their advancement.
Next up were Slovakia, who were thoroughly outplayed in the 2-1 win before Brazil came and thought they would bully the Dutch out of the game, having taken an early lead. The turning point of that match was their manager's stirring words at halftime and in the second period the Dutch game, their Brazilian counterparts as good as they were given.
Their 4-2-3-1 formation, the current "black" of the football world, is a system that suits the players van Maarwijk has at his disposal—although van Persie can become a peripheral figure if overused as a target-man.
vs. Denmark 2-0, vs. Japan 1-0, vs. Cameroon 2-1.
vs. Slovakia 2-1
vs. Brazil 2-1
Key Player: Wesley Sneijder
The little Inter Milan maestro is having a year to remember. In May, he was instrumental in Inter Milan claiming the UEFA Champions League title, having already won their domestic double.
Real Madrid must be questioning their wisdom in allowing Sneijder to leave...
When playing for Holland, he forms the pinnacle of a formidable midfield triumvirate with Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong. It is no exaggeration to say that the four teams in the Semi Finals have the four best midfields in the competition.
A player of supreme creative vision with a telepathic eye for a pass, Sneijder is the key for supplying balls to the rest of the team.
Although the Inter No. 10 is in the goalscoring form of his life with four goals in five games, his incredible work-rate is something that separates him from other attacking midfielders of his type. He is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and charge into the trenches with the rest of Holland's tough tacklers.
The Key to Beating Uruguay:
Half of the Netherlands' work has already been done for them as Luis Suarez will be suspended. The Ajax hit-man is well known to the Dutch public for having scored an incredible 97 goals in 132 games over his past three seasons in Amsterdam.
With the big striker out of the way, Uruguay's striking options have been reduced dramatically, leaving Diego Forlan as the one player they really have to be wary of in the final third.
Nicolas Lodeiro, also of Ajax, is another player who is guaranteed to miss out and all of a sudden, La Celeste's creativity is reduced from three outstanding talents to just one.
Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo Rios have been two of the standout players in the tournament, jealously guarding their back four all the while providing the foundation for Uruguay and Forlan to thrive. Van Bommel and De Jong will want to keep these two quiet, but not get involved in a battle, as the results could be exactly what Tabarez could want.
Holland will need to keep the supply lines to Forlan closed while getting the ball out wide as quickly as possible to Robben.
It could just be the game to drop van Persie and go with the physical Huntelaar , as his height and abilities may be exactly what is needed to get behind a defense that have only conceded two goals so far.
Bert Van Marwijk , Netherlands Coach:
"It will be a very dangerous match. The euphoria at home is massive at the moment and maybe it's good that we're so far away and can't witness it. We really need to concentrate on Uruguay and that won’t be easy. They didn't reach the semi final for nothing, so we have to really focus again and not think that we're already there."
This is a game that Holland should win. They hold all the cards while Uruguay will be without two, if not three, of their best players should their captain, Diego Lugano , fail a late fitness test.
Saying that, the Dutch have yet to really catch fire and as Paraguay showed against Spain, a high intensity game could put off their regal opponents. The one plus that Uruguay have over their neighbours is that they possess a striker, Diego Forlan , who can finish when the chips are down.
Holland to win...